Following long weeks of confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Greeks young and old appear to be looking forward to a chance to get out and about – and what better way to do so than hopping on a bicycle for their long-awaited next adventure.
Many in the country have dusted off their old bike or bought a new one in recent weeks to enjoy whatever is left of their “freedom” again, salespersons and users told Xinhua in Athens.
Greece’s first coronavirus lockdown started on March 23 last year and ended on May 4. The second one started on Nov. 7 and has been in force since. People are allowed leave their home only for work or health reasons, to buy essential items when delivery is not an option, to assist a person in need, to attend a funeral or walk a pet and to exercise within a short distance from home.
As cars and motorcycles are grounded by the lockdown, the streets are taken over by an increasing number of cyclists.
“We are happy to see that people start to embrace the bicycle again… Bikes in place of cars in downtown Athens, that’s a beautiful sight,” commented Panos Patakias, owner of the bike company Life Cycles.
“There is a strong momentum in the bicycle market. It started in March last year when the virus had just reached Greece. Sales last year skyrocketed to historic highs. Today, a year into the pandemic, demand is still on a steady increase,” he said.
In the pre-COVID-19 period, an average 200,000 bicycles were sold in Greece annually.
According to unofficial estimates cited by bike retailers and quoted by the Greek news agency AMNA, among them Patakias, 2020 witnessed a whopping 40 percent to 400 percent year-on-year increase in demand for bicycles.
“Physical exercise is more necessary than ever this period,” Yorgos K., a Greek who took up cycling two years ago to stay fit and healthy, told Xinhua at the Athens Olympic complex OAKA, the main venue of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
“There is now a major increase in the number of bikers. I talk to owners of stores selling bicycles and they tell me that currently there is a shortage of bicycles for sale. It is a fact and a very pleasant one at that.”
The goal bikers, retailers and even the government share is that this fad should not fade.
Patakias is optimistic that it is not a trend that will soon fade away.
“There were people who turned to the bicycle as a test, they discovered another way to look at the world and they keep buying better bicycles,” Patakias said. “Remarkably, interest is also keen in new types of bicycles, like electric bikes.”
The government encourages this shift. A few months ago, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that financial incentives will be provided for the purchase of electric bicycles, along with electric vehicles and motorbikes. Within a few weeks, the City of Athens opened new bike lanes and pedestrian paths in the center of the capital.
The bikers themselves are also optimistic that their vehicles will not be left to rust after the pandemic recedes.
“It costs no money, does not need fuel, does not pollute the environment — the benefits of the bicycle are numerous. I believe the bike boom is here to stay after the end of the quarantine,” Yorgos A. told Xinhua.